Printers are unbelievably
cheap these days. Whether you're in the market for
your first ever home printer, are upgrading or need a new work horse for the office,
there is plenty on offer - at great prices.
But...before you get too
excited and rush off to part with your cash, consider that buying a
printer is only
the first instalment in
the overall cost of printer ownership. Inkjet printers consume ink, laser
printers consume toner (in case you didn't know) as well as paper,
electricity etc. And sooner or later, the ink/toner cartridges that came bundled with the printer - run
Then what do you do? Well...that
depends on your printer make and model, what is currently available for it and what
you want to do. With many printers, you may have no choice - except for
genuine (read expensive) ink or toner cartridges. You can't refill the
cartridges, can't buy generic cartridges, can't fit a continuous ink
system etc. In other words...no options!
Other models are more user
friendly in accepting aftermarket products and solutions.
This is why it's most
important to buy the right printer in the first place. Too late to learn
you bought a dud - when the ink runs out. Your only option then, may be to
bin the printer...and start again.
Trial and error is one way to buy a
printer, but there are better ways...
How to buy a
printer - the right way...
often...do you print? These are the first three questions to ask yourself,
before buying a printer. Your answers will pretty well decide what print
technology (inkjet or laser) you should be looking at and "how much"
printer you need. Next step is to consider how you prefer to connect
(wireless/cable/network) and all the features you want/need. And finally
the financials...how much are you prepared to spend initially and how important are
the running costs?
do you print?
Not much point buying an expensive inkjet
printer, or a colour laser, if all you ever print is couple of text emails
week. A basic inkjet
or mono laser
printer will do much the same job at fraction of the cost. Sure, it may
take bit longer...but so what.
At the same time,
it would be false economy, to buy the cheapest printer you can find, if
you print hundreds or thousands of pages per week. Entry level printers are
slower than their more expensive cousins, ink cartridges are generally
much smaller and a cheap 'domestic' printer will wear out much faster than
a well built 'business' printer. Tip: when comparing print speeds, keep in mind that "advertised" print speed is
just that...advertising, and few (if any) printers live up to it in real life.
print is obviously one of the key selection factors. Even though most of today's printers are multi purpose and will print
almost anything reasonably well, different print technologies and printer models are designed for certain
So...if you plan to print quality photos, a printer intended for photo
printing will do a better job than a business inkjet or laser printer. It
may utilise more ink colours, print at higher resolution, use ink optimised for glossy paper, have separate
paper tray for postcard size photo paper, have a built in card/camera
reader etc etc. On negative side, photo printers usually print slower
and can be more expensive to run. Tip: Just because some printer model is
advertised as 'photo' printer, don't expect it to actually produce a good
quality glossy photo. Some do...some don't.
If you regularly print long, multiple page
documents and/or print a lot, you want a heavy duty office printer with
large paper trays, decent ink/toner cartridge option and lot of RAM.
Getting the idea..?
Ink printers are usually
cheaper to buy and more "flexible" to use than lasers. Today's inkjets
(some) can not
only print as fast and at similar quality as most lasers, but they can
be a lot cheaper to operate as well. With some, you have the option of
refilling your ink cartridges, or fitting a continuous ink system and buying ink in
bulk at minimal cost. Another advantage of some (not all) inkjets is that
you may have a choice of using different ink types - for different applications
ink for longer lasting prints, dye ink for cheap, high quality photos, high
temperature ink for thermal transfers, edible ink...for eating, sublimation ink for
transfer to non-printable
But...do your research! Not all current ink
cartridges/printers are 'refill friendly' and genuine ink can
get pretty expensive. It's not uncommon these days for a set of ink cartridges to cost
as much (or more) than a complete new printer - with cartridges.
Laser printers are generally faster, the print is
more permanent and toner cartridges never dry up, like ink can - if not used
regularly. So...if you don't print much, even expensive toner cartridges
can work out more economical than having to replace dried up ink
cartridges/printheads to make the printer work. On the negative side, toner
cartridges can be very expensive and DIY refilling is generally not
an option. Cheap
colour lasers are usually the most expensive of all printers for consumables.
you print a lot, find a laser
that takes large cartridges and make sure there are compatible or
reconditioned cartridges available - even if it means paying more for the
printer in the first place.
Another point to consider with laser printers is
the 'imaging drum' (OPC) cost and life expectancy. With some laser printers, the drum is part
of the toner cartridge, so it gets replaced with every cartridge change.
In other models, the drum is a separate part that needs replacing after
certain number of pages is printed. With some 'cheap' laser printers, the
drum may need replacing every few thousand pages and often costs as much
or more than a
complete printer ($150+). Other printers (eg Kyocera) come with a 100
000+ page drums, so if you print a lot, it may be worth spending few
hundred dollars more initially in exchange for lower ongoing running costs. Do
your research..! No good complaining once you buy the printer.
Another expense worth a mention with laser printers is electricity
consumption. While modern inkjets only use about 10-20W of power, some
laser printers can consume as much as 1000W or more.
But in reality, power cost fades into insignificance compared to toner.
do you want/need?
Most of today's printers come
with bells & whistles many people don't need, or ever use, but different makes and
models do offer handy options. If you want a scanner, duplexer, print
CD/DVD's, prefer wireless connectivity or network connection, need fax modem etc...find a model that can do these things.
Be prepared to pay a bit more.
function - or multifunction?
If you have ANY use for
scanner/copier, then get a multifunction. They don't cost much more than
printer only...so why not.
printer work with computer / operating system ?
Most new printer drivers are
compatible with XP and newer Windows versions, but it pays to check
compatibility. There is usually a chart with minimum OS and PC
requirements printed on the box somewhere. Read it!
Individual ink tanks - or multicolour
Despite popular belief (and printer maker claims)
individual ink tank/cartridge printers are usually no cheaper
to operate than twin cartridge printers, with one black and one
tricolour cartridge. Individual ink cartridge printers can in fact use
considerably more ink than twin cartridge models, as more ink gets used
for cleaning and priming the print-heads. Unless you print mostly in one
colour, or use a printer with big ink tanks, individual cartridges are only "economical" for the printer
But...if you plan to refill
your ink, there are several advantages to individual cartridges. More aftermarket refill products (eg refill
friendly cartridges, chip re-setters etc) are available for these and they
are usually easier to re-ink as well. But the main advantage of individual
cartridges (to refillers) is that the ink amount (fill volume) shouldn't
decline much, with subsequent refills. A 10ml individual ink tank will in
most cases still accept 9-10ml of ink...10 refills later. A twin type
cartridge volume can reduce by as much as 10% with every refill, so a
similar size (10ml) cartridge may only accept 5ml of ink after being
refilled few times. In other words, you will have to replace twin type
cartridges more often than individual cartridges.
Can the cartridges (supplied with
printer) be refilled?
In most casse yes, but not
necessarily. There are printers that will not recognise refilled
cartridges while others are difficult to refill successfully. Majority of
today's printer cartridges and tanks use IC chips to measure the ink
levels, which can cause problems with refilling. Do your research!
Are refillable cartridges available - do I need them? Will I need a chip re-setter? Can
the ink monitoring be disabled? You should be able to find most of this info
somewhere on this website. If you can't, feel free to
Some printers have two black
Canon, Epson and HP use two black
ink cartridges with different ink in some printer models. One cartridge is
usually filled with pigment ink, the other with dye ink. Pigment ink works
better on plain (copy) paper, dye ink is ideal for glossy (photo) paper.
The printer driver picks the correct ink automatically. Benefit? If you
print mainly photographs, you can expect slightly lower (colour) ink
consumption and better looking prints. If you don't print glossy photos,
the second black cartridge is a waste. You still
have to replace/refill it, even if you never use it. But...some
of the best printers on the market use the twin black ink configuration,
so don't let this put you off buying one. The extra ink cost is
minimal and not worth stressing over.
worth buying a
Unless you have a good reason, or
the printer is near new...don't buy second hand. Replacement ink or toner cartridges often
cost as much as a complete new printer (with cartridges), so used printers
aren't good value...even if dirt cheap. At the same time, some older
models may be better than new ones, may accept larger or cheaper
cartridges or you might want to re-use cartridges from your current printer etc. So...if you think you know what you're doing...go for it.
NOT to buy a printer?
Shop around for best value,
but don't buy from any business you don't know, even if it's much cheaper
than others. While most web based retailers are quite genuine, there are
some really dodgy ones "out there". Check out a couple of online business
review websites to see what other people have to say about the business you
are about to deal with.
such thing as a
Wouldn't it be great...if
there was a cheap, easy to use printer, packed with all the features you
dream of, that produced fantastic prints, was fast, quiet, reliable and
cost nothing to run? There isn't...but if you do your research, you should
be able to get pretty close.
Everyone's idea of a perfect
printer is little bit different, so it's impossible to suggest a model
that will suit everyone. But...some makes/models are lot more user
friendly than others. If you want a reliable, easy to get on with and
refillable A4 or A3 ink printer, consider a Canon (any model) with individual